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Shakespeare

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

What to read? It’s only a difficult decision because there is so much to read.

Sometimes you walk into a room and you just find yourself walking towards a particular shelf with your arm outstretched, fingers in the book-gripping position. Sometimes you pace back and forth, completely unable to choose, (while carefully, utterly ignoring the ceiling-high “official” to-read stack). Sometimes you happily go about your reading business, following a microscopic-breadcrumb trail, perhaps visible only to you.

Then there are the times when a reference comes up over and over from the such disparate sources that it begins to feel like a conspiracy. This is how I came again to Shakespeare, bane of my high school existence. All I wanted was to smack Hamlet upside the head and tell Juliet that no guy was worth offing yourself for.

But then again, there were a few wonderful moments. I remember the second time I did Romeo and Juliet, (I’d changed schools). We each had to learn a soliloquy and one girl got up in front of the class and actually broke down in the middle of hers. That’s when I got it. Suddenly Shakespeare wasn’t just something schools invented to torture young people, these were real characters, struggling through their lives just like us.

But mostly bored or indifferent teachers managed to squeeze the life out of things. The saddest part was, that every time I’d read one of his plays I’d never been able to relax and enjoy it. Not once. They were dissected, analyzed, “decoded”, paraphrased and summarized to death. Then we’d have to rake through the carnage one last time in two, hour-long essay questions on themes and symbols in the final exam. Before that girl started crying, I probably would have put Shakespeare in with the sciences.

So there were a lot of little calls to return in the past few months and then I saw a lovely every-last-doodle-included edition “commissioned by The Royal Shakespeare Company”. Who am I to say no? So, here I am again, after a long time away.

I’ve started with The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus which I’ve never read before. So far it’s quite good. And no one has asked me why a character said the word “the” in line 84 and what the symbolism means vis-a-vis his previous use of the word “is”. The footnotes are frequently entertaining (does anyone really need that explained?!?), disturbing (oh dear, maybe they do…) and enlightening.

Two interesting examples of the latter:

prodigies: ill-omens/unnatural events

I looked this one up in my giant Oxford and sure enough the earliest definitions had seriously negative connotations: “Of a person: (in bad sense) A monster” I’m hard-pressed to imagine how you could call someone a monster in a good sense…? And: “An amazing or marvellous thing; esp. something out of the ordinary course of nature; something abnormal or monstrous.” Isn’t it fabulous that we walk around now blithely chatting about “child prodigies”. I love how words have such complicated histories.

Solon’s happiness: the ancient Greek philosopher and lawgiver Solon observed that man is only securely happy when dead

Fun at parties, that one! I wonder if he ever actually gives his definition of happiness anywhere? I suppose if all you require to be happy is the absence of utility bills and consciousness, then that might work for you.

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A wonderful new English language bookshop in Paris France!

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

If you live in Paris, or are just visiting, you have to go to this bookstore and buy a book!

Berkeley Books of Paris
8, rue Casimir Delavigne
75006 Paris FRANCE
(Odéon métro stop)
Telephone / Fax : 01.46.34.85.73

The shop is only a few months old, but they have tons of wonderful books, a fantastic selection of authors and titles and really good prices. (If you’ve bought books in English in Paris, you know how insanely expensive they can be.)

I was just there again yesterday. “Perhaps I’ll buy a book” I told myself (feigning innocence) as I lunged in the door. An hour later, I emerged, stumbling under the weight of my bulging backpack. Ah, many happy hours of reading await…

Definitely my favorite bookstore in Paris!

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